Homegrown Virginia wants area farmers’ ugly fruits and vegetables. The growth of the local food movement has seen more produce being harvested than can easily be sold, said Allie Hill, director of Homegrown Virginia and coordinator of the Prince Edward County Cannery. Homegrown Virginia is a contract packing service that specializes in creating value-added foods with local ingredients.
“A lot of what we’ve seen in the past is second-grade fruit coming in,” Hill said. “Someone may pick strawberries every day for retail, and what they don’t sell they wash and cap and put into gallon-size bags. Then they freeze them, and once they have about 50 or so bags they bring the fruit to us to produce syrups or jams.”
The Prince Edward County Cannery and Homegrown Virginia have been working together for more than three years to provide professional-grade canning options for Virginia produce growers. Hill said availability is first-come, first-served or by reservation, and she recommends making reservations this spring.
“We’re available for any assistance with regulatory paperwork. If needed, we have a recipe portfolio available that highlights Virginia-grown produce and fruits. Fruit jams and syrups, salsa and pasta sauces are just some of the recipes we have. Or bring your own recipe, and we will help walk you through the process to make your own product,” she said.
Spencer Neale, director of commodity marketing for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and chairman of the Virginia Food Systems Council, called the operation “one of the more innovative and affordable ways we’ve seen to promote local foods in Virginia.”
Because clients can freeze products throughout the picking season and bring it all to the cannery at one time, Hill said, “they can produce 400 jars or more, enough volume to justify the trip. We have people coming from Virginia Beach, Northern Virginia and western Virginia, all to get it done in one day.
“And all of our regulatory guidance and recipe assistance is free, so if anyone wants to call us and ask questions, please do. The only cost is renting the facility.”
Hourly rental rates for the cannery range from $16 to $25 an hour, and Hill said the cost is partially subsidized if Virginia products are used. Details are available athomegrownvirginia.com.